Media: Down, down and…

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The latest Nielsen Media Index Report has thrown up some revealing statistics on readership and viewership.

The media owners, as expected, put their own spin on the figures and headlined their stories accordingly. Some when for the most obvious “dog bite man” angle. That The Straits Times is the most read daily in Singapore is an oxymoron. Why shouldn’t it be? After all, it is the only “official and national” English daily.

TODAY reported that its readership dropped by 145,000 to 585,000, but “remained the second-most read English newspaper”. But the fact that Zao Bao had overtaken the free paper was left out of the report.

Channel News Asia headlined its story: “Majority of television viewers tune in to terrestrial TV channels”. Did we expect something else?

But The New Paper’s opening paragraph to the story reflected the grim outlook: “The pace of readers shifting from print to digital platforms for news has quickened, a trend underscored by the survey findings of the 2012 Nielsen Singapore Media Index Report”. This is the clincher.

What lies ahead for the mainstream media is chilling. The trend towards the digital platforms is unlikely to be reversed, as more and more young readers come on to the market. This new reality is a global happening with the same trend happening, at a quicker pace, in the US and Europe.

What does it mean to the MSM? To be sure, all these newspapers are adjusting as quickly and adroitly to the new realities. They are rolling out new digital offerings to reach out to their digital readers. Bundling of products has become the norm.

Unfortunately, as the fight shifts to the digital space another new reality sets in. This space is huge. Competition for readership and advertisements is even more intense. For foreign news, sports, entertainment, social, medical and finance stories, the digital reader has the luxury to scour the internet universe for the best.

So the digital space for the local news content providers will be rapidly narrowed. Here, the proof will be in the pudding. How are stories covered and presented? Will it be honest, transparent and incisive reporting or just propagandist takes on issues? If the latter, the reader moves on. The choices being proffered on social media platforms and blogs are refreshing, albeit sometimes harsh.

The biggest challenge will be for the advertising companies and their clients. How best to take advantage of this changing media landscape? Should more money be thrown into the digital platforms? What is the best way to extract value for the money spent? Should they develop new spending matrixes?

To be sure, the death watch of the Main Stream Media has begun. Globally, not just Singapore. It is a matter of when? Just like global warming. Is it five years? Ten or twenty? Your guess is as good as mine.